[xmca] Tool taxonomy

From: Lemi Daghan Acay (lacay@pgrad.unimelb.edu.au)
Date: Tue Feb 28 2006 - 22:21:16 PST

I am new to XMCA but I am interested in AT and CHP for an implementation
of these ideas in a multi-agent environment. But before I can implement
these I need to understand the philosophy behind the ideas in AT. More
specifically, I am interested in understanding the tool taxonomy. Below
I will give my literature survey and some contradictions that I deem to
be important to talk about. I should warn you that I am still a beginner
in AT and CHP and I try to make my questions and my conclusions as clear
as possible. The reason I am writing to this discussion group is to get
your confirmation about my results and continue my research on the right
track with your guidance.


First of all I will say tool and mediation has been used in almost all
contexts related to CHAT (see CSCW). Yet, many complications such as
symbol/tool, physical/cognitive etc. were still problematic and have
recently been discussed in your community too (see 2005 discussions).
However there has not been an in-depth study of tool (MCA 2005) and
especially no taxonomy since Engestrom (When is tool) and Wartofsky
(Models: Representation and the scientific understanding). As I will try
to show even these taxonomies are contradictory when we compare them
with Ilyenkov and Barkhust and the idea of "ideal". That is the reason
why CHAT and I should consider this taxonomy as a gap for research.
Engestrom called for a research for tool in 1999 but I was not able to
find any steps towards this direction. (can you show me concrete
examples of any taxonomy?) Concrete taxonomy will improve the rhetoric
power of CHAT and make it easier to learn and understand AT. This
taxonomy may also clarify the distinction between object and tool -
according to me we can not do this separation as easy as many may think.
I hope it also help to understand the relation between tool and activity
hierarchy of Leontyev. These are some of my motives to pursue this
research. Rest of the mail will be as follows. I will include some
parenthesis and ask my questions as I go through my survey. Any comment
about specific question is more than welcome. I would like to get your
feedback on the correctness of these questions too.


I like to start with Wartofsky. He gave three tier taxonomy for tool, 1-
primary tools: tools that are directly used in an activity (What is the
relation of primary tools to activity hierarchy, are tools used in
procedure, action or activity level?) he includes needles as well as
language into this category. And according to him primary tools are goal
oriented. Engestrom calls these "what" tools 2- Secondary tools: are the
procedures that enable one to understand the use of primary tools or
tools that "represent the activity". Engestrom divides these into two
namely "how" and "why" tools finally 3- tertiary tools: which help us
prospect about the future and has no connection with the actuality.
Rituals are one of these tools. Engestrom calls these "where to" tools.
(How are these tools selected and what stage of the formation of
activity they are determined? Do they trigger activity or do we create
and activity and start realizing tools around us that will serve the
purpose? More specifically we engage in an activity because tools are
there or do we select tools after we engage the activity?)


Now if I look at Ilyenkov, Engestrom and Cole tools have ideal
properties. These ideal properties gain meaning in the activity. I
believe ideal properties are procedures, and meanings of tools in an
activity, since according to Wartofsky activity itself determine related
tools. Then this results in collapse of secondary tools into primary
tools. Other way around, if secondary tools exist than primary tools do
not have any "ideal" properties which contradict the initial claim. Also
there is no clear cut distinction, as far as I am concerned, between
secondary and tertiary tools since rituals represent a hunting activity
for example (secondary tool) they are also used to construct the future
possibilities for that activity (tertiary tool)


Now if we review Leontyev again everything starts from a need (hunger)
but this need does not drive (motivate?) the activity unless it can be
objectified. That object (game) drives the activity. So ideal form of
the object is need (or motive can I say that?). this object trigger an
activity (hunting) and this is realized by a group of people each of
which undertake one action (hitting bushes, ambush etc.) (so can I say
there can be no activity triggered by single individual? Does its very
formation rely on collective behavior? Can you give me an example that
the object of individual activity does not coincide to the goal of an
action?) Every action determines its tool (spear, long pole) that is
where ideal properties of tool is given. And finally tool is used under
some condition and procedures come into play. Of course this is not that
simple but I cannot articulate it better since I am confused with the
terminology too.


These are my understanding to activity theory however they do not fit
together even philosophically. So I devise my own taxonomy from my
computer science perspective. Any comments on my reasoning and my
taxonomy are more than welcome.


I divide tools into four

a- Transforming object (production): these tools have effect on objects
in order to transform them into something else. Object in this sense
perceived as physical object. Such tools are labor tool, kitchen tools,
typewrites etc.

b- Mediate action (transform task): these tools have direct effect on
action selection and goal formation. According to Norman tools can be
seen as mapping from one action sequence to another. Such tools are car,
checklist etc.

c- Transforming tool (information presenting): For example check boxes
on a sliding stripe on a checklist transform the tool by interpreting
the current state of activity. This strip itself a tool but it actually
mediates the use of checklist and present the information so that it
transform checklist.

d- Changing 0bject (Negotiation): this tool such as language can act on
a need and find different object to satisfy that need and change the
activity itself. For example hunting may change its object from deer to
elephant so the actions may change. But this change is supported by
tools such as negotiation.


I have included my table to this e-mail for better distinguishing the
tool taxonomy. Please let me know if I am totally off the track or if
you may suggest me more reading to understand tool. One more time I like
to implement tool in a computer and I need more or less clear cut
taxonomy that gives relation of tool to activity hierarchy, object ,
goal, and conditions. I hope this is not too much to ask and not
contradictory to the theory itself. Sorry for the long e-mail but I
could not find a shorter way to express my confusion.


Thank you all

Daghan ACAY

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